The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

FEMA and Trading Spaces

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


When a participant goes on the popular Learning Channel show Trading Spaces, they have two days to redesign a room in the home of a friend or family member.  They must remain under budget throughout the process.  Conversely, when FEMA decides to remodel, it tends to extend projects indefinitely and ignore budget limitations.  Nonetheless, fans of the home improvement show might still enjoy FEMA’s project along the Gulf Coast.

FEMA’s latest foray into the world of waste involves awarding contracts to paint thousands of gas knobs in an effort to curtail accidental explosions.  There are upwards of 114,000 government-issued trailers currently spread throughout the Gulf of Mexico region that lack proper identification of the gas and starter knobs.  So far, four gas or stove related fires, including one fatality, in FEMA trailers in Louisiana have been blamed on this confusing setup.

However, it has also been reported by the Associated Press Michael Kunzelman that most occupants of the trailers are not having a problem determining how to use the stoves properly.  Biloxi, Mississippi resident Vica Dees, whose stove knob was painted in October, was quoted as saying “It was odd.  I know what that knob is for.  If it was that big of a hazard, they should have replaced it before they gave us the trailer.”

Because the number of stove related fires is quite small compared to the number of stoves in use, it seems to follow that most inhabitants are not having trouble operating their stoves.  However, regardless of the number or severity of fires, FEMA could have spent the money more effectively.  Or, as Ms. Dees suggested, they could have at least painted the knobs prior to disbursing the trailers, thus saving themselves the cost associated with contracting the work, traveling to the individual trailers, and returning if the residents are not home.

Like many of FEMA’s projects, the process of painting the knobs is predicted to be lengthy and expensive.  According to FEMA spokesman Don Jacks, there are roughly 114,000 trailers stretched from Florida to Texas – a clear signal that the amount of time and money necessary to complete this project will be immense.

So far, progress has been slow.  Of the 3,100 trailers in Texas, 15 percent have been painted, while 85 percent of the 40,000 trailers in Mississippi, and 20 percent of Louisiana’s 70,000 trailers have red knobs.

Regrettably, while Trading Spaces adheres to a strict budget, FEMA rarely does.  As of now, no cost estimate has been released for repainting stove knobs, but judging by the agency’s track record, the final tab will surely make taxpayers cringe.

As details emerge, it is becoming clear that the project will rank amongst the most wasteful and impractical plans created by FEMA.

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